At 2:55 p.m. on Friday, students rushed into the Ohio Union Performance Hall. Out of breath and panting, they carried hot boxes filled with food that quickly filled the room with an overwhelming scent.
For the past three hours, these students had been planning and preparing a three-course meal for Vice President for Student Life, Javaune Adams-Gaston, more commonly known as Dr. J.
But this wasn’t just a nice gesture. The television show, “Dining with the Dean,” which airs on BYUtv, was the force behind it. The show secretly goes to campuses, shows up at two student organizations’ front doors, hands them $30 and gives them three hours to prepare a meal for the dean, or in this case vice president, of their school.
The two groups participating in the cook-off were BuckeyeThon and the African American Heritage Festival committee. Each was competing for the prize: $1,000 for their group and $2,000 to donate to charity.
As the students filed in with their freshly prepared food, one member of AAHFC shouted out, “You might as well write us a check now.”
He was right.
After Dr. J was seated at her own dinner table and took time sampling each team’s meals, which included an appetizer, entrée and dessert, she made her decision.
“We have the best culinary delights here at Ohio State,” she said. “You’re all winners to me and I am so glad you decided to represent so well, but I know I must choose one.”
With an unveiling of a $3,000 check, Dr. J announced the winners: AAHFC.
Rayvion Sanford, a third-year in chemical engineering and AAHFC member, described the day as nerve-wracking.
“We went home-style and BuckeyeThon took a more fancy approach,” Sanford said, as she hugged their check. “But the competition was real, so it feels amazing to win.”
After the cheers from both groups died down, Dr. J made a second announcement.
“Because the food was so great and you both did so well, we at Student Life are giving $2,000 to BuckeyeThon,” she said.
Dr. J described both meals as “amazing, fresh and marvelous.”
Prior to the meal, Dr. J told Dan Debenham, the show’s host, “I’m excited and not too worried, I just want to make sure that they (the students) didn’t cook anything that had been sitting in their fridge for three weeks.”
When Dr. J was asked to take a seat for the meal she replied with, “Game on.”
Dr. J worked her way through both meals which included bruschetta, chicken soup, asparagus, stuffing, and filet. When it was time for dessert, Dr. J needed extra time to make her decision.
“OK, I need to eat more to make my decision here,” she said as she took a second bite of triple chocolate cake.
Dr. J said she was “floored” at what the students were able to accomplish.
“You all can cook for me anytime you want,” she said.
Executive producer of “Dining with the Dean” Daniel Patterson said the decision to film at Ohio State was a “no-brainer.”
“When you talk about signature universities, not many rank up,” he said. “We were looking for a diverse student body and you have an extraordinary reputation here. We’ve been all over to different schools and when it comes to signature schools, it’s Ohio State.”
Patterson said the decision process for picking the two student groups is collaborative.
“The producers help but we look to the faculty for recommendations,” he said. “We were told these were two of the top groups that represented quality and diversity of students.”
Telling the groups they will be part of the show is “one of the fun parts,” Patterson said.
“The group’s president knows what’s going to happen but can’t tell the group anything about it,” he said. “We just show up at the house with a recorded video of directions on an iPad, knock on the door, and leave it there. It’s an invitation. It’s like, this is the show, you’re a part of it, and the clock starts now.”
Patterson said that as a twist, each group has to use an ingredient in its house.
“It’s hit-or-miss with what college students have in their pantry,” he said. “They have to use at least one thing, whether it’s a mango or a Fruit Loop. It usually gets creative.”
No clues were given to students on Dr. J’s likes and dislikes of food.
Patterson, who was clued in on what was being cooked all day, said the meals were “remarkable” and he was interested to see the outcome.
“We want this to be a positive experience and for everyone to have fun,” he said.
Stephanie Poeppelman, a first-year in international business and member of BuckeyeThon, supported the cause.
“The money is going to go to kids with cancer so of course I support that,” she said. “You can feel the energy in here. I hope it will help get our name out there.”
Corey Hamilton, a fourth-year in nonprofit management was rooting for AAHFC.
“My wife’s on the team so if I rooted for the other team it would be a cold night,” Hamilton said. “But whoever wins will get to donate money to charity so that’s good.”
Hamilton didn’t help with the cooking process but he did offer suggestions.
“Hopefully they took my advice because I make some great shrimp tacos,” he said.
Jordan Macon, a third-year in finance, didn’t know about the event until he got there.
“Honestly, I just followed the people in here,” he said. “But I think I want the heritage festival group to win.”
Students ended the event by singing the alma mater, starting the O-H-I-O wave, and even partaking in their own Buckeye Bounce.
Patterson said the episode will air sometime in the next couple weeks.